Rolls Royce: “Best car in the world”

In 1907, Autocar magazine first dubbed the Rolls Royce as the “Best in the world,” and the label stuck. Since six out of every 10 ever built are still roadworthy, it seems appropriate and Jerry Satterfield agrees.

His ‘36 Rolls Royce 20/25 Sunshine saloon is still going strong after more than 50 years of his ownership. With no major repairs needed for all those years, the workmanship speaks for itself. Then, as now, Rolls Royce engines were handmade to exacting standards.

Back in 1963, Jerry had admired a ‘36 Rolls he had seen and decided to track down the owner to see if it were for sale. The lawyer who owned it told Jerry to come check it out immediately if he were interested and Jerry did. He found out that the lawyer was in trouble with the IRS, was getting a divorce and had a pregnant mistress. The lawyer was desperate to sell.

Jerry took it for a test drive on the freeway and said that the 3699 cc (225.6 CID) engine was “as quiet as a mortuary at 60 MPH. You could balance a nickel on the radiator shell while it was idling. I had to have it.”

He had been considering a new Chevy, but opted for the Rolls. He even gave his ‘58 Porsche 356A as a partial trade, which he said was probably not a wise financial move in light of current market values. But he has never regretted it.

Jerry’s “new” Rolls became his daily driver for a couple of years. As an L.A. County fireman, it did get some comments. His captain called him the Duke of Downey and the Count of Cudahay, after two nearby cities. However, such joking didn’t bother Jerry, who is a bit of a wag himself. He hands out a classy-looking business card that says, “Nevada City Rolls Royce Club, G.H.-Jerry Satterfield, President and Founder.” He is also the only member.

The dependable service his Rolls has given Jerry is a reflection of the craftsmanship of the car. All the gauges still work, as well as the American-made Waltham dash clock. He did repaint it 48 years ago, but kept the original leather and wood interior. Mechanically, he has had to do little else except oil changes and tune ups. The most expensive part he has had to buy was a distributor rotor since, unlike the spark plugs, was Rolls Royce-only. The builder made the car to run well and to be inexpensive and easy to maintain. To lube the car, just push a pedal on the floor to pump lubricant into every wear-point in the suspension. Even the fuses in the advanced 12-volt electrical system are rebuildable. It is practical luxury. And there is a lot of luxury.

The four-speed gearbox has syncros, unusual at that time. The ride can be stiffened or softened by a lever above the steering wheel. The car can be easily raised off the ground by three jacks permanently mounted under the car, two under the back and one under the front. In the back seat, there are hide-away writing desks and footrests. It even has three-way switching for the interior lights. Jerry says that people used to ask him where the bath tub was, so he installed a toilet seat under the rear seat (non-functional, fortunately) and showed it to anyone asking that question.

“That makes them shut up,” he said.

Although Jerry no longer drives his Rolls daily, he does bring it out for the Constitution Day Parade in Nevada City. It’s the one with the “Flying Lady” hood ornament, formally known as the Spirit of Ecstacy, that is quietly purring down Broad Street.

Ron Cherry has published two books, a mystery titled “Christmas Cracker” and a noirish suspense titled “Foul Shot.” For more about his writing, go to www.rlcherry.com.


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The Union Updated Jun 16, 2014 01:48PM Published Jun 12, 2014 10:21PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.